War Dogs helping veterans with PTSD

June 16, 2013 (CHICAGO)

In addition to therapy and medication, many have found that service dogs provide lifeline to dealing with their disability.

Training dogs to support veterans is a team effort. One organization is not only helping veterans, it's giving high kill shelter dogs a second change.

On Chicago's North Side, veterans and their dogs are going through drills at War Dogs.

The training program here before the veterans sees the dog is four weeks, and then they are matched with the dog. Then, they have to come to classes twice a week for a full year, and after that, in the second year, come once a week," said Elana morgan, who started War Dogs in 2010.

"I've seen what therapy dogs can do and other just how dogs provide comfort to people," she said.

Most of the dogs are rescued.

"They have to been extremely child friendly, dog friendly people. They can't be skittish. They can't be nippy, you know, they have to be very stable," Morgan said.

Veterans have to qualify for the program.

"They all have to be seeing their therapist. They had to been diagnosed with PTSD," said Morgan.

Ralph Matson served in the Vietnam War. He got his dog, Beef, two years ago.

"In a couple of weeks, he started to change me. He was helping me remain more patient-- not as on edge, not as stressed. I was able to get out a lot," Matson said.

AJ Ferguson was part of the Iraq invasion in 2003. His dog is Kala, and she was rescued from Afghanistan. In January, he was paired with her.

"She alerts me anytime that I am feeling anxious, or if i have a panic attack, she helps calm me down," he said. "I have slept better now than I have in the past nine years since coming back because of her."

Since War Dogs started, more than 20 veterans have been matched with dogs.

"We have four veterans waiting to get in. We have one dog here who has about one more week of training left that was pulled from a rescue," said Morgan.

War Dogs depends on fundraising. Morgan says they have been trying to get funds from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. A VA spokesperson told ABC7 Chicago they have not yet been able to determine that these kinds of dogs provide a medical benefit to veterans with mental illness.

For more information, visit wardogsmakingithome.org

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